Mullet dresses go mainstream

Hemlines have taken a turn. Forget being merely maxi, midi, or mini, because the mullet dress is short at the front and sides, and long at the back - much like the 1980s haircut from which the trend takes its name.

And though the likes of Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Stella McCartney, Julien MacDonald, Alexander McQueen and Giambattista Valli have been parading the controversial look on their catwalks for consecutive seasons, plenty of ordinary folk have have been sensible enough to stay away.

Until now, that is.

After wowing onlookers and the gathered global paparazzi with four days and nights of perfectly executed wedding ensemble, newly crowned style queen Amal Alamuddin can attest to the power of the mullet dress.

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In the run-up to her Venice nuptials, which took place last month, the human rights barrister donned a red Alexander McQueen gown with a staggered hem. The dress - a version of which was also worn to a state dinner by Michelle Obama in 2011 - was even amended to accommodate Amal's style preferences. Tailors slashed the front panel, allowing the 36-year-old to flash a generous portion of toned leg as she stepped onto one of the city's water taxis 24 hours before she married George Clooney.

The day after the A-list couple exchanged their vows, however, she really turned heads in a striking Giambattista Valli couture number from the Roman designer's current collection. His Paris office has since been inundated with inquiries from those eager to get their hands on a similar piece. The thigh-skimming white lace dress, which is also embellished with crimson and lilac flowers, once again displayed her favoured high-low hem.

Too short? Too structured? Too youthful? Who cares! It has subsequently become one of the most talked-about looks of the year, outshining even the bride's own Oscar de la Renta wedding gown.

Indeed, after dividing major labels, buyers and bloggers since 2010, it seems the mullet dress is finally being referred to as a key trend for next season.

Of course, the mullet craze should have really started and ended with Geena Davis: more than two decades ago the Thelma & Louise actress turned up at the Oscars in an outfit which has now entered red carpet disaster lore. The soft pink dress featured a corseted bodice and full mullet hemline with layers of disastrous ruffles.

However, today's leading designers have recently decided that they can bravely master the mullet, making the look versatile and flattering - less Ms Davis, more Mrs Clooney. Not that the latter-day results have been exclusively successful. Earlier this year, it was a mullet dress that earned 26-year-old actress and writer Lena Dunham a spot on the Met Ball's worst dressed list. Also designed by Giambattista Valli, the black, strapless piece did little to flatter Lena's figure; looking bulky and awkward.

The professionals have been equally cautious. Although not dismissing the trend outright, Robert Verdi, a top stylist and TV personality from New Jersey, responded to Amal's post-wedding attire by saying: "This is a look that needs to come with a warning label." He continued: "People see it and think they can get away with it, but you have to be very tall and thin to get the full benefit of the style."

Brazilian blogger Liza Block similarly cautioned: "On the catwalk the effect is cool, but it just doesn't work in real life," while another online observer bewailed: "It's bad enough for a dress to be too short on a fat girl but does it have to literally 'frame' one's fat knees? Here's my fat knees - oh you can't see them well enough? Well, let me just outline them and frame them with the back of the dress so that they're highlighted."

US-based fashion and beauty writer Joy Sewing was even blunter: "There are some trends I secretly wish would die. The mullet dress is one." But Joy does offer a reason behind the revival: "Since the economy downturn a few years ago, I have noticed how many brands and designers have cut back on fabric," she says. "Maybe the mullet dress is another way to cut costs by cutting back on fabric, but also giving shoppers something that looks new."

Designers first began to ignite the resurgence five years ago, though their wares got little immediate love from the fashion community. First out of the traps was Jessica Biel with her sweeping red Versace gown which she wore to the 2009 Met Costume Gala ball. Also ahead of the game, actress January Jones was panned for the electric blue Versace mullet gown she wore to the Emmys in 2010.

Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen also sent her versions down the runway in the same year, as did Zang Toi. A year later, Rihanna wore mullet-inspired Dior on stage at the Grammys, while Lady Gaga embraced the trend wearing dramatic Thierry Mugler to the CFDA Fashion Awards.

Dublin DJ Vogue Williams was equally clued in, wearing a brightly coloured high-low hemmed dress to an MTV Australia's summer party.

Then a year ago, Vogue was forced to admit that though the high-profile likes of Prada, Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Celine refused to acknowledge the trend in their 2013 shows, the streets tell a very different tale.

"These bipolar dresses and skirts, usually but not exclusively rendered in translucent chiffon, have been called 'high-low' by some parties; others have saddled the poor things with the moniker 'mullet', which is not exactly a compliment," wrote Lynn Yaeger. "Not that the legions of mulleteers seem to care," she added. "Their unevenly developed garments are comfy, flirty, and appear to address the perverse need to be both bare and covered at the same time."

The mullet dress is unlikely to ever be called a true classic. It is not the little black dress carrying out years of faithful service in your wardrobe. It will continue to raise eyebrows, and even tall, lean celebrities will continue to get the look wrong. But it's also fun. Long and short and somewhere in between all at the same time, the mullet dress ticks a host of style boxes. And as Amal proved in Venice, the results can be seriously striking.

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